The Dalai Lama met with Buddhist worshippers Saturday during a four-day visit to Mongolia, despite Beijing’s strident demand that he be barred from entering the country.

China is “firmly opposed to the anti-China separatist activities by the Dalai Lama in any country, in any name, and in any capacity”, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters Friday.

The People’s Republic further demanded that Mongolia “not allow the visit by the Dalai Lama and do not promote any facilitation for the separatist activities by the Dalai clique”.

Home to devout Buddhists but heavily dependent on trade with China, Mongolia has tried to avoid angering its giant neighbour, which views the Nobel Peace Prize winner as a devious separatist bent on breaking apart China.

But the spiritual leader has pressed more for Tibetan autonomy rather than outright independence.

Mongolia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Tsendiin Munkh-Orgil said Friday that the Dalai Lama’s visit had no connection with the government.

The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader arrived in the landlocked nation’s capital of Ulan Bator Friday and will stay until November 22.

At the airport he told reporters that Mongolia and Tibet have “a unique and ancient relationship” like that of a master and a student.

“I want Mongolians to use new-era education and scientific achievements in their life to develop their country while keeping their beautiful ethical traditions such as respecting elders and being humane to each other,” he said.

Hundreds of monks and worshippers waited hours on Saturday in biting, minus 20 C (minus 4 F) temperatures for a glimpse of the 81-year-old Tibetan, who is widely revered in the country, with many families keeping his picture in small household shrines.

Mongolian Buddhism is closely related to the Tibetan tradition.

Dolgoriin Lkhagva, a monk, told AFP he travelled 600 kilometres (370 miles) on icy roads so he could convey the Dalai Lama’s message to worshippers back home.

Russian Daritseren Luvsanova, 73, said she crossed the border and drove 12 hours to see him at Gandantegchilen monastery in Ulan Bator, where he was participating in Buddhist ceremonies.

After several hours the Dalai Lama came outside to greet and bless worshippers, many of them holding long silk bands in a traditional gesture of respect.

“Look at how many people wanted to see the Dalai Lama. Our desire will not be bothered by Chinese affairs,” 25-year-old monk Shinebayariin Luvsantseren told AFP.

Despite China‘s demands that Ulan Bator refuse him, “Mongolia has shown it is a democratic and independent country that makes its own decision”, he added.

dalai lama
File photo: Reuters/Jason Reed.

The monastery that organised the visit said it was purely religious and separate from political affairs.

The Dalai Lama’s last visit to the vast and sparsely-populated country came in 2011, in the midst of a wave of self-immolations by Tibetans in China angry about what they saw as religious repression and growing domination by the country’s majority Han ethnic group.

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